The Bartlett School of Planning


Joe Penny

Research subject

Thesis title: Downloading Austerity: The (post) politics of fiscal retrenchment, state rescaling and localism in England

Primary supervisor: Professor Mike Raco
Secondary supervisor: Dr Susan Moore
Sponsor: ESRC
Starting date: September 2013

The Coalition government’s austerity measures and state restructuring reforms pose significant challenges for local government and ask searching questions about its future shape and purpose. Local authorities increasingly find themselves in the uneasy and ambiguous position of ‘agents of austerity’, tasked with administering massive budget cuts, whilst maintaining service provision and quality, and designing and developing new local welfare programmes without the requisite funding.

The Local Government Association (LGA), predicts that 2016 will be the year when significant changes to the way in which local government services are delivered will be required; with more front-line cuts and service restructures, alongside various other forms of local survival and management strategies expected. This in turn is likely to lead to the sorts of decisions that fundamentally affect what local government is, and can do in an age of permanent austerity, as wider, deeper and cumulative processes of change drive “new waves of institutional transformation, governance reform and public-service restructuring – with long run and potentially path changing consequences… (Peck, 2012: 647). The task of making sense of these changes in the moment, or to paraphrase David Harvey (2005), to construct a moving map of austerity as it affects local government and governance, is expedient.

This research project will seek to make sense of these changes, asking how local government in England is engaging with and responding to the Coalition Government’s programme of austerity and state restructuring and what this means for the welfare state, the public realm and politics at a local level.